Marshawn Lynch may skip minicamp, but leverage on Seahawks’ side

In case you missed it last night, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch plans to skip next week’s mandatory minicamp because he wants a new contract, according to an ESPN report.

The report says Lynch wants more up-front money, which is almost certainly because he and his representation understand the realities of the NFL enough to know that there’s a good chance he doesn’t see the final year of the four-year deal he signed after the 2011 season. Lynch is due $5.5 million in 2015, plus a $2 million roster bonus, and will be 29 that season, an age when most running backs have already started their inevitable decline.

Lynch knows the Seahawks can save $7.5 million in cap space by cutting him in 2015, he knows they’re very high on Christine Michael’s ability, and he knows running backs have to get as much as they can, when they can because of their short shelf life. He also saw first-hand this season that the Seahawks are willing to make tough decisions, even with key players like Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, in the name of sustained success, so if Lynch really does plan to hold out, it’s understandable that he’s looking to get a little raise and/or more guaranteed money in 2014.

Understandable, but not very realistic.

The fact is, as great as Lynch has been for the Seahawks — he basically gave the Seahawks their tough, nasty identity before the defense could — he doesn’t appear to have much leverage here. That’s not to say the Seahawks would be happy to play the 2014 season without him, but rather that they know how unlikely it is that Lynch would hold out into the season. Holdouts almost never go into the season because that’s when players start forfeiting game checks, and that’s especially true of players already making significant money. It’s one thing for a player at the end of a rookie deal to hold out when it could make the difference of turning, say a $700,000 contract into a multimillion dollar deal, but with Lynch already making $5 million in base salary, missing a single game check would mean giving up $294,111, never mind bonuses and incentives he’s risking.

And fair or not, running backs just don’t command huge salaries very often anymore, especially not 28-year-old running backs — Google “declining value of running backs” and see how many relevant links come up — so it’s hard to see the Seahawks adding to what is already one of the biggest running back contracts in the NFL.

Lynch’s own success and running style may even work against him. With some players, you worry they might give less effort or have a decline in production if they’re unhappy, or when they get paid, or when accolades could lead to complacency. But throughout Lynch’s time in Seattle, all he has done is give insane effort every game, stay healthy and put up big numbers. He has been one of the league’s best and most durable backs before and after signing a big contract extension, he has been productive despite missing most voluntary workouts over the years, and despite frequently missing midweek practices, especially as the season goes on. Distractions, such as his DUI arrest, or an ongoing battle to avoid media obligations, also don’t seem to affect Lynch on game day. And he continued to run hard and produce for a Super Bowl champion last year despite being unhappy with the play calling at times — anybody remember this from the Arizona game?

So even if this becomes a bit of a distraction in training camp, and even if the Seahawks think Lynch might be a little grumpy if he doesn’t get his way, do they have any reason to believe Lynch won’t be the same player on game day? Probably not.

It isn’t ideal if Lynch skips a minicamp, or if he is a no-show at the start of training camp, but ultimately, and unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have enough leverage to hold out long enough for it to affect the Seahawks’ 2014 season in a significant way.

I have no issue with Lynch trying to get what he can now. He has subjected his body to an incredible amount of punishment over the years to become one of the game’s best backs, and eventually, probably soon, that’s going to catch up with him. I just don’t see how he has enough leverage in this situation to get what he’s looking for if he wants a significant raise or guaranteed money beyond 2014. Could the Seahawks give him a small raise or perhaps guarantee some of his 2014 salary? Sure, but it’s hard to see them doing much beyond that.

A few links related to this topic:

From ESPN’s Terry Blount, who reported last night that Lynch was looking for a new deal, a little more on what Lynch might be thinking.

From earlier this offseason, ESPN with a look at how running back production begins to drop at 28 (Lynch’s current age).

From NFL.com, a story on the lack of money available for running backs in free agency. The Wall Street Journal also looks at the declining value of running backs, as does OverTheCap.com.

NFL.com looks at the potential of a Lynch holdout.

From earlier this week before the Lynch news came out, SI.com’s Doug Farrar on how the Seahawks are set up at running back.

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